|SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)|
Anthony Michael Hall
|"I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek!"|
|Time: 93 mins.|
Genre: Comedy/Romance/High School
Having been a teenager in the 80s, there isn't a film maker who better captures the pain of growing up than John Hughes. SIXTEEN CANDLES is the epitome of the longing and humiliation teens encounter on a daily basis. Though there are many aspects of the film that are quite real, it is, at its heart, a fairy tale. Because as we all know, the most popular guy in school never ends up with the pretty, but somewhat geeky girl who understands and likes him as a person. However, if we wanted reality, we wouldn't go to the movies. What makes this fairy take different from all the others is its outrageously funny situations and timeless high school humor. This stuff may not have happened to you exactly, but it's pretty darn close. Molly Ringwald is the perfect foil pretty, intelligent, funny and a complete nervous wreck around the boy she loves. Her reactions are pitch perfect as she struggles through a totally awful 16th birthday that nobody remembers. Everything about this film, from the Geek who won't leave her alone to the grandparents who are a constant embarrassment will have you laughing out loud and inwardly cringing from personal experience.
The film begins on the morning of the best day in most teenagers lives their 16th birthday. Samantha Baker (Ringwald), like most of us at that age, believes this is going to be the best birthday ever. Unfortunately for her, it starts out bad and gets progressively worse. With her older sister's wedding coming up in the next several days, it seems everyone has forgotten her special day. Her parents are too preoccupied with the preparations, her younger brother too callous and her older sister too self-involved. She holds out hope that her grandparents' arrival will bring happy salutations, but all it gets her is an embarrassing conversation about her budding breasts and a space on the couch. Her best friend remembers, but that's not enough to relieve the sting. If only the boy of her dreams, Jake Ryan (Schoeffling) would notice her. That would make this a memorable birthday. Instead, she gets hassled by Farmer Ted (Hall), the king of the freshman geeks and forced to babysit the Chinese foreign exchange student living with her grandparents, Long Duk Dong (Watanabe). What she doesn't know is that Jake is getting tired of his homecoming queen girlfriend Caroline (Morris) and is looking for girl with a little more going on between her ears.
Things seem to be looking up at the high school dance when Jake comes up to talk to her. However, Samantha is so surprised she can't think of anything to say back. Horrified, she runs from the gym, only to be followed by Farmer Ted, who seems to have a crush on her and some interesting information to share. Of course, she needs to do him a favor in order to hear it. In a classic cinema trade of information, Samantha finally gets a dose of good news. It may not have been the day she expected, but maybe it will turn out for the best after all. For Farmer Ted, this is the best night of his life. He not only gets to attend a raging senior party, he ends up taking Caroline home in Jake's father's Rolls Royce. His adventure ends with a lot more than borrowing a pair of panties. The film ends with a wonderfully funny wedding misadventure, which proves one should be careful when mixing drugs with alcohol, especially on the big day. For Samantha, it ends up being better than she could have imagined, when she finds her dream man in a great car waiting for her. She like any sane young woman, skips her sister's reception and drives off with him, fulfilling her ultimate birthday wish.
Of all John Hughes' films, SIXTEEN CANDLES is the most believable. The dialogue couldn't be truer to life and the characters are cut from a cloth everyone will recognize. Because of all the horrors Samantha experiences, with a fairly good attitude, she deserves to have her happy ending. If that had been my 16th birthday, I would have slit my wrists. What truly makes this one of the best high school comedies out there though, is the supporting cast, especially Anthony Michael Hall and Gedde Watanabe. No matter how many times I've seen this film, they keep me laughing my socks off. Because the writing comes from the heart, this is a film that shows very little age. The only thing that clearly places it in a specific time are the clothes. It seems harsh to say that Molly Ringwald's performance in this film is the best of her career, but I believe that to be true. It's certainly the only one where she's able to keep a sense of humor about her situation, which allows her to be funny, sweet and sympathetic. For reasons unknown to me, most of her other roles merely showcase her prissy, petulant side, which doesn't age well. She is so genuinely funny in this movie, I wish she would return to more comic roles. She captured the spirit of a generation of young women and think she could do it again, given the right character.
The farther I get away from high school which is over 15 years now the more I loathe teen comedies. Hughes had a way of capturing teenagers emotions and ideas that has been lacking in film ever since. With a dearth of decent teen stories, I wish someone would find the voice of this new era. Maybe I'm delusional and just don't remember all the crappy movies that came out in the 80s, but I'm sure most of the ones that have been released in the last couple of years will not be loved decades from now. Maybe it was luck, however, I think it had more to do with great casting and a well-written original script. Sometimes good films make it out of the mire, like 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, but generally they are the same old story, retold over and over again. If you're looking for an honest, unique comedy about the pains of being young, you can't do better than this. If you have never seen this picture you are truly missing one of the best comedies around.